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The new ‘More Housing Bill’ intended to speed up housebuilding in Portugal

Both property journalists and real estate professionals in Portugal have identified problems with the country’s planning processes and granting of licences for building new homes. The bureaucratic systems and long-winded timeline have caused delays for investors and developers in securing planning approval.

So, news that the Government has recently approved a new bill ‘The More Housing Bill’ has been widely welcomed. The objective of this new bill is to speed up the planning application process to enable new housing projects to be built far more quickly and improve the lack of supply versus the demand from buyers. The new legislation is being created to remove some of the officious obstacles and make the application process more straightforward.

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Move to a zero-licensing policy to increase housing supply

The bill will abandon the need to obtain various licenses and authorisations with the aim of creating a ‘zero-licensing’ policy, known as the “Urbanistic Simplex” initiative considered non-essential for the public interest. As part of the new bill, the main objectives include increasing the number of available dwellings by allowing the conversion of commercial properties into residential units without the need for additional licenses. Additionally, it aims to make more plots of land available for development.

The new initiative is intended to significantly reduce the time it takes for planning approval and make the process more efficient. City councils in Lisbon and Porto are introducing initiatives to educate stakeholders about the detail around licensing procedures.

Due diligence around urban development

Discussions have also focused on due diligence to assess urban developments and any potential risks within a strict framework of urban planning regulations applying to a specific potential construction site. Considerations such as the height of a building’s façade, the permitted use and potential for additional future extensions are all part of the due diligence process.

Improving understanding between licensing authority and project designers

The disparity between the legal timeframe for appraising projects and the actual timeline to implementation has historically delayed the efficiency of urban developments and been an ongoing problem when it comes to the planning process. So too, has the interpretation of the urban planning framework by the licensing body and the project designers and architects.

Municipal fees to replace construction licenses

Changes to the current system of issuing permits are being introduced so a payment of municipal fees will replace a construction license. The proposed changes also seek to bring transparency to the calculation of deadlines. Additionally, requests for additional information or documents can only be made once. The introduction of one-time notifications for preliminary clearance and throughout the procedure will increase vigilance among city hall technicians and improve the overall instruction of the processes.

Urban development must complement the local landscape

Whilst the reforms to simplify and speed-up the licensing process have wide support, there is still concern that property owners must not be exposed to a lack of legal certainty from ignoring urban planning compliance. At the heart of any change to the planning process is a need to ensure that the integrity of urban development projects is maintained with the authorities balancing simplified planning and licensing regulations with sufficient supervision.